On the road: Stephen Strasburg comes to Cleveland


Strasburg pitches.JPGWhen I first realized that Stephen Strasburg was going to make his second start in beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio, my first thought was: I should get me some tickets. About an hour after that first thought, I got an email from Rob Campbell, future Cleveland Indians GM, inviting me to sit in the Tribe Social Deck for the game. Hmmm, free tickets or no free tickets, what should I do . . . I’m pretty sure I responded to Rob in approximately 4.2 seconds.

As Drew noted yesterday Strasburg was still throwing serious heat and, even if it wasn’t nearly as good as his debut, he didn’t exactly do anything to shake the planet’s confidence in the young man.  I personally enjoyed the hell of the game. Random observations after the jump . . .

I got to Cleveland just before noon after a mostly uneventful drive from Columbus. Sadly, Grandpa’s Cheese Barn (located in Ashland, Ohio, which is seriously billed as “The World Headquarters of Nice People”) was closed. Instead I had to stop at the Goasis travel plaza. The place is absolutely redonkulous. It has a Pizza Hut Express, a Popeyes, a Taco Bell, a Starbucks and a convenience store that is larger than pre-1980s grocery stores. The Goasis is everything that is both so very, very wrong and so very, very right about America. I got a bean burrito and a bottle of water (the bean burrito was the wrong part, but I had one or two cocktails too many on Saturday night, so it was very, very necessary.

Last month when I came to Cleveland for a game the garage I like to park in on Huron Street was charging $10. Yesterday it was $15. The Strasburg Effect is apparently limitless.

Lots of Stephen Strasburg shirts on the plaza between Quicken Arena and the ballpark. I’m sure they weren’t all worn by people who drove up from Washington, so you figure there’s a lot of people caught up in the hysteria. My first thought when I saw them all was whether people would have been snapping up David Clyde shirts back in 1973. Yeah, you and I know Strasburg is a different brand of pitcher than Clyde was, but I kinda doubt a lot of the people in the shirts would have been able to explain the difference. On some level hype trumps everything.

You pick up Social Deck tickets at the Gate B will call. Which is the only will call window at the ballpark.  When I got there, I was greeted by quite a line:
will call line.JPGAnd it stretched way back from what you could see in the pic. Not the smoothest operation, most likely because the Indians forgot what it was like to have a near full house at the joint.  Confession: the “S-T” line was much shorter than the “A-J” line, so I hopped in it, figuring I’d play dumb and say “Social Deck” when I got to the window, even though I knew full well that they had the tickets reserved by last name. The guy at the window just looked at me like I was a piece of garbage and he was right to do so. Still, he got me my tickets because this is the Midwest and we tend to do the weary, put-upon, silently-think-less-of-you thing better than we do open hostility.

Oh, one other will call thing: I overheard the guys behind me in line — a couple of early twenty somethings who could have been athletes — and based on their conversation it was obvious that Strasburg had left them tickets. “They’d better be under his name and not ours, dude, because I’m not waiting in that other line.”

Walking around the concourse for a bit I talked to a middle aged couple wearing Nats jerseys. I asked them if they came here from D.C. They said they were from Strongsville (a Cleveland suburb), and that they were the only Nats fans they knew in Ohio. I asked them how they became Nats fans and the guy said that he worked in Montreal for a while about 15 years ago and got hooked on the Expos, so he just followed them over. I had no idea that any old Expos fans made the jump like that.

Paul Cousineau of The DiaTribe and Beyond the Box Score showed up to the Deck with his brother. He had his own will call story: as he was waiting in line he saw the new Cleveland Browns’ QB Colt McCoy being let in the media gate. Paul: “If he’s six feet tall then so am I.” note: Paul is not six feet tall. Good luck Browns fans!  By the way, Paul is just about the best Indians blogger out there, so definitely check him out.

David Huff got the start for the Tribe. His warmup music is “God’s gonna cut you down” by Johnny Cash. I can’t think of a pitcher who deserves that song less than David Huff, but I’m glad to see that his weekly shellackings aren’t affecting his confidence.

When I saw Aroldis Chapman a couple of weeks ago it took him an inning or two to loosen things up and get to the high 90s. Strasburg was there right out of the gate, hitting 99 on his first pitch and then 100 within just a couple. There was an audible “oooh” in Progressive Field when he started bringing that stuff. His windup and motion seems way too easy to be throwing that hard. I’m pretty sure if he took his shirt off it would reveal that he’s powered by an arc generator.

Social Deck.JPGCool thing about the Social Deck: there’s a little flat screen TV right there. Even better: the HD broadcast is on, like, a five second delay, so it was like having instant replay for every pitch. This was absolutely indispensable in figuring out how Strasburg was doing. Even more indispensable for the play in which Adam Dunn barreled Carlos Santana over. Everyone in the crowd was watching the ball go down the right field line and missed the collision the first time. Having the replay of it while in the park rocked.

Travis Hafner hit a homer off Strasburg in the second inning. The ball was down and in and he just golfed it. When he did it, Cousineau and I assumed he guessed at it. After the game Hafner admitted that with this kid you just have to assume the fastball and hope for the best.

A drunk guy in the bleachers behind us was taunting Josh Willingham, who got the start in left field for the Nats. “Hey 1-6!! You suck!!”  Who the hell taunts Josh Willingham? I hate people sometimes.

For all of Strasburg’s great pitches, one was notable by its near absence: the changeup. He threw his heat and he threw tons of mow-to-mid 80s curves, but there were hardly any of those low-90s changeups he featured in his debut. Maybe a few of what I’m calling curves were changeups, but if they were they were much different than before. Did someone tell him to slow it down, or did he just not have the feel for it yesterday?

Browns’ receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs was at the ballpark. When they put him on the jumbotron he got the loudest cheer of the game. It’s been forgotten since the Bernie Kosar days, but Cleveland will always be a Browns town before anything else.

It was widely reported after the game, but Strasburg’s issues with the mound were fairly entertaining. After the fact it became clear that he had a legitimate beef with the condition of the mound, but in the park at the time it wasn’t clear (neither Huff nor any of the relievers, righties or lefties, had any apparent issues).  The boos he got were because everyone thought he was being a prima donna. I think he might have been frustrated that he wasn’t getting borderline calls on the corner either, but no matter how big a wheel he is he’s still a rookie, so he had best get used to that.

I figured that the place would empty out once Strasburg was pulled, but they hung around to watch Drew Storen, who was pretty impressive in his own right, get out of the bases loaded jam in the sixth.  A lot of folks streamed out of there once the sixth ended. In all, there was 32,800 at the game, which is about double what the team could usually expect for a Sunday tilt with the Nats.  The loss sucked for the Tribe, but the money is a nice consolation prize.

All in all a nice day at the Jake. Baseball cold beers, hot sun and the Second Coming of Christ on the mound.  Beats running through the sprinkler, doesn’t it?

The Yankees were booed last night. Did they deserve it?

Masahiro Tanaka

The boos came raining down from the Yankee Stadium faithful last night. They started when Brett Gardner grounded out in the eighth inning. More came later. A lot of it was, no doubt, based on Gardner’s disappointing performance late in the season. A lot of it was because, around that time, it seemed like the Yankees had zero shot whatsoever to mount a comeback. Which, in fact, they didn’t. A lot of it was pent-up frustration, I assume, from a late season skid which saw the Yankees lose their lead in the AL East and wind up in the Wild Card Game in the first place.

Anyone who buys a ticket has a right to boo. Especially when they buy a ticket as expensive as Yankees tickets are. It’s obviously understandable to be disappointed when your team loses. Especially when your team is eliminated like the Yankees were. And last night’s game was particularly deflating, with that 3-0 Astros lead feeling more like 10-0 given how things were going.

But isn’t booing something more than a mere manifestation of disappointment? Isn’t a step beyond? Booing isn’t saying “I’m sad.” It’s saying “you suck!” It’s not saying “I’m disappointed,” it’s saying “you should be ashamed of yourselves!” And with all respect to Yankees fans, the 2015 Yankees have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

This was a club expected to miss the playoffs, full stop. Maybe some people allowed for an if-everything-breaks-right flight of fancy, but hardly anyone expected them to play meaningful games late in the year, let alone a playoff game. They were too old. Too injured. There weren’t enough young reinforcements to fill the gaps. Some even went so far as to claim that they were about to spend years in the wilderness.

But then A-Rod broke out of the gate strong. And Michael Pineda had a really nice first couple of months. And Mark Teixeira put up numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place for him several years ago. The bullpen did what it was supposed to do and more, Masahiro Tanaka held together somehow and, eventually, a couple of young players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino came in to reinforce things. The not-going-anywhere Yankees were contenders. And they led the division for a good while. Of course they stumbled late. And of course they lost last night, but by just about any reasonable measure, this was a good team — better than expected — and, unlike a lot of Yankees teams in the past, was pretty darn enjoyable to watch.

Then the boos. I just can’t see how this Yankees team deserved that.

I realize a lot of people in the media have duped a lot of people into thinking that a team with a high payroll is supposed to be dominant. And I realize George Steinbrenner duped a whole lot of people into thinking that anything less than a World Series championship for the New York Yankees is failure. But that’s rhetoric and branding, not reason. In the real world where baseball players play baseball games World Series titles are rare, even for the Yankees. At the end of the season all but one of 30 teams are either at home for the playoffs or went home after suffering a gut-wrenching playoff loss. The Yankees are the most dominant franchise in the history of American professional sports yet they still have finished their year without a title over 75% of the time.

With that as a given, fans are left to judge their team’s performance based on its talent, its health, its heart, its entertainment value and the strength of the opposition which ultimately vanquished it. The Yankees weren’t nearly as talented as many, yet made the playoffs anyway. They were a walking hospital ward, let limped on. They never quit and never got pulled down into the sort of muck a lot of New York teams find themselves in when things start to go sideways. And, ultimately, they were simply beat by a better team. By any reasonable measure the 2015 Yankees were a good story, a successful enterprise, a resilient bunch and no small amount of fun.

It’s OK to be sad that it ended as it did. But that doesn’t deserve to be booed. Not by a long shot.

Collin McHugh will start Game 1 of the ALDS for the Astros

Collin McHugh Astros
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After using ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel to get past the Yankees in the Wild Card game the Astros will turn to right-hander Collin McHugh in Game 1 of the ALDS versus the Royals.

McHugh had an up-and-down year, posting a 3.89 ERA compared to his 2.73 mark last season, but thanks to good teammate support he had a 19-7 record and his 171/53 K/BB ratio in 204 innings was solid. He was particularly good down the stretch, posting a 2.89 ERA and 69/20 K/BB ratio in 72 innings after August 1.

McHugh will match up against Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura in Game 1. Houston hasn’t named a starter for Game 2 yet, while Kansas City is going with Johnny Cueto. And then the Game 3 matchup figures to be Dallas Keuchel versus Edinson Volquez.